Update as of 1700 Eastern Time:
Bottom Line Up Front:
1. Georgian Government begins pushing large amounts of police into Gori.
2. Russian Federation Troops withdraw from large amounts of Georgia but retain Combat Outposts around Gori and Poti.
3. President Karzai expresses outrage over airstrike that is alleged to have killed a number of civilians in Western Afghanistan.
From the NY Times:
As Russia said its military pullback from Georgia had been completed, despite still holding several key areas of the country, the Georgian government on Saturday began to ready cities and villages in the conflict areas for the return of thousands of refugees who fled the violence that erupted two weeks ago.
Georgia has deployed a “massive police presence” in and around the city of Gori to help guarantee security for returning residents in the wake of the Russian withdrawal on Friday evening, said Shota Utiashvili, a high-ranking Interior Ministry official.
At dusk on Friday, columns of armored personnel carriers and troop transports ferried most of the Russian forces in Georgia back to Kremlin-defined security zones in Abkhazia, a separatist enclave in Georgia’s west, and South Ossetia, the breakaway region where the war broke out two weeks ago.
On Saturday, Russian armored columns continued to flow over the Inguri River from the Georgian city of Zugdidi into Abkhazia, a local police spokesman said. The Russians have also left the Georgian military base in Senaki, but only after confiscating almost everything of value, including televisions, refrigerators and even toilets, according to local residents who have watched the steady stream of Russian trucks moving in and out of the base for more than a week.
But Russian forces remain entrenched deep inside Georgia, maintaining checkpoints several miles from Gori close to the South Ossetian border and two observational posts near the Black Sea port city of Poti.
Though Poti is outside the Russian-controlled buffer zone, Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian military’s general staff, said Saturday that Russian troops would continue to patrol the city.
“Poti is not in the security zone,” Russia’s Ria news agency reported General Nogovitsyn as saying. “But that doesn’t mean that we will sit behind the fence and watch as they drive around in Hummers,” he said in reference to the United States Marine Corps Humvees confiscated by Russian troops from Poti’s commercial port this week.
Georgian police were resuming control of the city of Gori after Russian troops departed, and internally displaced people were returning, said Shota Utiashvili, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
Russian troops no longer controlled a key east-west highway, Utiashvili said, but they maintained checkpoints in the Black Sea port of Poti. The port is outside of of South Ossetia, a Georgian separatist region that is at the heart of the conflict.
In Moscow, Russian military spokesman Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said Saturday that some Georgian troops were preparing caches of weapons for "further activity," though he offered no additional detail.
The comments came a day after Russia said it had withdrawn its forces from Georgia into the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, completing its end of the cease-fire agreement reached last weekend. Yet Georgian and U.S. officials were quick to say Russia was not keeping its end of the deal.
Georgia's interior ministry said Friday that the Russians were "just changing hats" to make themselves look like peacekeepers.
And U.S. Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the Russians "without a doubt have failed to live up to their obligations under the ceasefire agreement."
An immediate concern expressed by all sides involved buffer zones outside of two Georgian breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia insists it has the right to create these zones under the cease-fire deal, but Wood said, "Establishing check-points and buffer zones are definitely not part of the agreement." Watch more on Russia's withdrawal »
The six-point cease-fire deal established that, while the two sides await an international peace monitoring mechanism, Russian forces will take "additional security measures."
In a letter clarifying that point, French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- who helped broker the deal -- wrote that such measures "may only be implemented in the immediate proximity of South Ossetia to the exclusion of any other part of Georgian territory."
He added that the measures must be "inside a zone of a depth of a few kilometers from the administrative limit between South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia in a manner such that no significant urban zone would be included."
Russia has argued that its peacekeeping forces, who are in the breakaway regions under previous agreements, need protection from the Georgian military. Georgia has said the peacekeeping troops are under no threat, and that Russia's real intent is to expand its military presence in Georgia.
From NY Times:
President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned on Saturday a coalition airstrike that he said killed up to 95 Afghans — including 50 children — in a village in western Afghanistan on Friday, and said his government would be announcing measures to prevent the loss of civilian life in the future.
Government officials who traveled to the village of Azizabad in Herat Province on Saturday said the death toll had risen to 95 from 76, making it one of the deadliest airstrikes on civilians in nearly seven years of war.
The American military said Saturday it was investigating the attack.
The Karzai government has expressed outrage over recent airstrikes that have led to civilian deaths, as popular support for the coalition presence in Afghanistan dwindles. The tension comes at a delicate time for the American-led coalition, which is facing a resurgent Taliban with a perceived shortage of troops, leading it to rely more on air power to battle militants.
More to follow:
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